HOUSTON – The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (BSNM), the only museum in the country dedicated solely to the preservation, heritage and presentation of the African-American soldier, kicks off activities for the largest capital campaign fundraising drive in its history with events beginning this week.
This week’s activities include a reception to honor Dr. Michael D. McKinney, chancellor, Texas A&M University, on Tuesday at the museum. Dr. George C. Wright, president, Prairie View A&M University, also will be on hand on the reception. On Friday, the museum will hold a press conference and official change-of-command ceremony at 10 a.m. at the museum as well as its annual 2008 annual gala at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel at the University of Houston.
The Museum is charging toward a financial goal of $4.1 million within the next year to move its current headquarters at 1834 Southmore St. to the former site of the historic Houston Light Guard Armory, 3816 Caroline St. In addition, the capital campaign will strengthen the museum’s educational programming through the development of curricula for the arts; Texas and U.S. history; and social studies.
Renovations and expansions to the Armory will include: augmented exhibit space, a 14,000-square-foot theater, meeting facilities, a research/computer center, ample paved parking, an archival preparation center and a global studies program through Houston Community College.
“We want to celebrate the Buffalo Soldiers – the under-recognized heroes who have contributed in profound and lasting ways to American life,” said Museum founder and executive director Captain Paul Matthews. “This important part of our history must be preserved and shared with others. When we opened our doors in 2001, the museum welcomed 20,000 visitors by the end of that year. In 2006, our attendance doubled to 45,000.”
“Since colonial days, African Americans have proudly served in the military,” Matthews said. “During the Civil War, about 180,000 Black soldiers served in the Union Army with more than 33,000 giving their lives for this country. The Buffalo Soldiers served in the U.S. Army’s 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments.”
In Texas, the soldiers’ contributions were especially significant during the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, when approximately 20 percent of the U.S. Cavalry were African Americans.
“Legend says that Native Americans dubbed the soldiers ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ based upon their hair’s resemblance to the American Indian’s sacred buffalo mane as well as the soldiers’ bravery and tenaciousness that embodied the spirit of buffalo,” Matthews said. “Over time, Buffalo Soldier became a general term for all African-American soldiers from 1866 to World War II.”
Through the capital campaign, the museum will almost triple its size from 8,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet and projects an increased attendance to 100,000 visitors annually. The groundbreaking for the museum is scheduled for later this year, and the new, expanded Buffalo Soldiers Museum is expected to open in 2009.
“We are in a march to secure the future of this fantastic museum – the only one of its kind in the nation,” said Tracye McDaniel, BSNM Building Capital Campaign Chairwoman and Executive Vice President and COO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “We have quite a challenge before us, but as Houstonians, we are more than up for the challenge. We are honored to assume our role as guardians of this history that is uniquely American.”
Friday’s press conference and change-of-command ceremony will celebrate the pageantry of the military as re-enactors dressed in full Buffalo Soldiers regalia will salute and exchange flags with officials to mark capital campaign activities.
Gala highlights will include the introduction of the museum’s national spokesperson, Rodney Reynolds, and recognition of decorated soldiers and Houston’s own Sgt. Clarence Sasser and Sgt. Major Charles Bass. Reynolds, president of New York-based RJR Communications, Inc., is the founder/publisher of American Legacy magazine. Sasser is one of only two surviving African Americans to receive the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award. The Congressional Medal of Honor has only been bestowed upon 87 African Americans in its history. Bass received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award.
To see more images from that event please click here.